Archive for the ‘Borneo’ Category

Borneo – The Pictures

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Finally got through all the pictures from our trip to Borneo.

Click the link for the galleries…

http://www.busscher.us/holiday/borneo/

Borneo – Video Slideshow

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Video slideshow from our Borneo Holiday. Enjoy…

[Updated 4/11 : now includes video clips, updated sound track, and high resolution mode]

Borneo Photo Tip – BRING A TRIPOD

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

The number one photo tip is to bring a tripod!!  Shooting in the rainforest is usually pretty dark because of the canopy.  If you find yourself without a trip you end up contorting yourself in various positions to get that extra stop of shutter speed to freeze the frame.  You can try my techniques below but believe me bringing a tripod is much easier.

I would also recommend bringing one on the boat when you are traveling on the rivers around Sukau.  It may be a tight fit and you’ll still have to fight with the rocking boat but it will help steady those long shots.

Photo pose #1

Photo pose #2

Photo pose #3

All trying to get a sharp shot of Mike

Resort Review – Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Shangri-La Rasa Ria

Not much good to say about the Shangri-La Rasa Ria.  It’s not a bad resort but it’s not in the same class as other Shangri-La properties.  The whole experience started off pretty bad trying to redeem the free nights I was entitled to so that didn’t help their cause.  I would recommend this place to families as all the kids running around seemed to be having a good time.  The main draw of the Rasa Ria is the attached Orang Utan rehabilitation center.  This is definitely a must see.  We saw Orang Utans in the wild which was much more rewarding.  However, having them in a semi-controlled environment allowed me to get some really good up close pictures.

Pictures of the Rasa Ria

Lodge Review – Borneo Rainforest Lodge

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

After visiting the SRL (Sukau Rainforest Lodge) we were ready to move on and based on the reviews of BRL (Boreo Rainforest Lodge) we were exciting but cautious based on experience at SRL.

In short, BRL was FANTASTIC.  They did everything well.  From the pickup and transfer from Lahad Datu to BRL in the Danum Valley all the way to the drop off back in Lahad Datu 4 days later.

BRL is located about a 3 hour very bumpy drive into a primary rainforest called the Danum Valley. Upon arrival you are created with a warm towel to wipe off the dust from the long drive in.  The main lodge was under renovation so they had a temporary lodge which was actually very nice.  They could have fooled me and called this the main lodge and I wouldn’t have been disappointed.  After meeting our guide and brief orientation we were escorted to our room.  The room was very large and nicely appointed with an amazing view of the river and rainforest behind it.  Truly one of the nicest views from any lodge we stayed at.

After settling in we went to the “Elephant Pool” which is a nice little swimming area in the river.  We went here everyday to cool off after the long hikes.  Really one of the best places in the world to take a swim.  We were even joined by Gibbons and Macacs on several occasions.  They are very active and always put on a good show.

Video of Miki swimming in place at the elephant pool.

That night we went on a night drive and saw flying squirrels, slow loris, samba deer, and several other animals I can’t remember.

Slow Loris

Days 2, 3 and 4 were equally packed.  The day usually started with a morning walk before breakfast.  Usually over the canopy walk with is several hundred meters long and very high up in the canopy.  After breakfast you go on another walk with can be 2-3 hours long and arrive just in time for lunch.  After lunch there is usually time for a short nap or a swim and then you meet up with the guide again for another 2-3 walk before dinner.  After dinner you can go on on another walk or a night drive, depending on your preference.  As you can see.  Non stop activities all day long which is exactly what we wanted.

The wildlife spottings here were non stop.  Spotting wildlife in the rainforest is not as easy as spotting wildlife on safari in Africa.  Part of the adventure is trying to find it.  We were very lucky that we spotted orang utans on two separate occasions (for a total of 5 wild orang utans while in Borneo).  The first one at BRL was a mother and it’s baby.  They were on the move so I had to run through the thick jungle chasing them while taking photos.  The other was a large and very lazy male that just sat around all morning eating and sleeping.  The last sighting made the trip.  I got some amazing pictures of a large male that seemed to be posing for the camera.

What made the wildlife sightings even better was knowing all the hard work hiking would be followed by amazing food.  I was very surprised at the quality and variety of the food.  They had various kinds of curry (my favorite being the lamb curry), every night for dinner they had a grill where you could get lamb, steak, prawns, chicken, etc.  They had a huge selection of fresh fruit as well.  To top it all off it was all served by a very good staff on tables under the stars.  The main lodge was being renovated which non of us complained about because we liked eating under the stars better than having to eat in the lodge.

Would I go again? Yes. Absolutely.  We rarely go the same place twice but this might be the exception.

Would I recommend it to a friend?  Yes.  The first thing I mention when people ask about my trip to Borneo is BRL.

Lodge Review – Sukau Rainforest Lodge

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

The lodge was ranked as one of the top 50 eco lodges by National Geographic Adventure magazine.  Based on this we booked 3 nights and 4 days here and had pretty high expectations of the lodge.

This was the first first lodge we stayed at when we arrived to Borneo and it didn’t start off very good.  The driver that picked us up from the airport didn’t speak much english at all.  It was my understanding we would have a driver and guide and that the guide would speak english.  It turns out that every other group we meet at the lodge had a guide except for us.  Not sure why or how this happened but the staff didn’t seemed surprised that we didn’t have a guide even though everyone else did.  To be honest, it didn’t really matter.  There wasn’t much for a guide to add any value.  The boat drivers did most of the work.

The accommodation was very, very basic.  A very small room with two single beds.  The lobby was pretty dated but had a nice local feel to it.  Half of the lodge was under renovation so it was a little noisy during out stay but we were warned of this before we booked.

The food was the same for almost every meal.  Nothing bad but nothing memorable.

The staff was friendly but didn’t seem to go out of their way to make the experience memorable.

The key draw for the lodge are the boat cruises on the river to spot wildlife.  This is one of the only places in the world to spot Proboscis monkeys.  Funny little creatures with long noses.  We had many sightings and this, even with the negatives about the lodge, is reason enough to stay in the area.  We even saw elephants which we are told are very rare.  They only come around every 3-4 months.  We  saw them crossing the river while following them in our boat which was a unique experience.

On the last day we were lucky enough to see an orang utan and her baby in a tree pretty close to the river.  There are a number of orang utans in the area but they are increasingly more difficult to spot due to the encroachment of the palm oil plantations.

What is sold on their website and confirmed over the phone and in an e-mail is that there was a morning and an afternoon cruise with options for hiking during the day and many other activities.  In actuality, you do a morning cruise from 6-8 am and an afternoon cruise from 4-6pm.  From 8am to 4pm there is absolutely nothing to do.  There is a short walk on a elevated boardwalk in the back of the lodge but that only takes 30 minutes.  Other than that all you can do is read, sleep, eat, relax which is not bad if that is what you signed up for. We did not.  We wanted an active vacation.

The other thing to note about the lodge is it’s claim to fame on being very “eco friendly”.  Eco lodges are a strange thing.  A lodge can do a few eco friendly things, provide less services, less amenities, and charge a lot more all in the name of being eco friendly.  The funny thing is that people tend to leave happy.  I think there should be two ratings for eco lodges.  The “in your face” eco lodge (i.e. Sakua Rainforest Lodge) and the “behind the scenes” eco lodge.  I prefer to stay at an eco lodge that does it’s part for the environment but it does so behind the scenes and doesn’t impact the guest experience.

Would I stay here again?  NO.  I’ve seen the Proboscis monkeys and once is enough.
Would I recommend it to a friend?  YES to the Sukau area but NO to the lodge.  No matter where you book only stay for 2 nights.  It’s all you need.  Do some research to see if there is another lodge in the Sukau area that gets better reviews.

Borneo Holiday

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

Male Proboscis Monkey

We just got back from our 1 week trip to Borneo.  We spent 3 nights / 4 days at the Sukau Rainforest Lodge in Sukau.  Then 3 nights / 4 days at the Borneo Rainforest Lodge in the Danum Valley.  Followed up by 2 nights / 3 days at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort near Kota Kinabalu.

Lodge reviews, pictures, videos and a more complete trip report are to follow.

Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort – Attempting to redeem a free night

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

The main focus of our trip to Borneo was to spend time in the rainforest and not in resorts.  However, we thought after 6 nights at lodges in the middle of the rainforest we thought a little bit of luxury for 2 nights before we returned home would be nice.

There were several reasons we wanted to stay the the Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort in Kota Kinabalu.  First, and most important was because they have an organ utan wildlife center on the premises which we wanted to visit.  The resort also receives good reviews online.  It’s part of the Shangri-La group of properties so it should be up to the global standard of other Shangri-La properties we’ve stayed at.  Finally, I had a free night from their Golden Circle Promotion.  This entitled me to a free night at this hotel… or so I thought.

Here is the 4 step process I had to go through to redeem the free night I was entitled to.

Step 1) The initial phone call (and what I hoped would be the only step in the process)

I called the reservation number to try and make a reservation for the 2 nights I wanted to stay at the resort.  I was told I couldn’t because the local hotel property wouldn’t accept the free night I had earned because it didn’t meet the terms and conditions of the offer.  I told them it did and to escalate the issue to a manager.  They did escalate it and I received an e-mail from the Golden Circle Center in Hong Kong the next day.

Step 2) I received the following mail from them

Please be informed that per this promotion terms and conditions, redemption must be made 3 days in advance online at www.goldencircle.shangri-la.com or by phone at (60) 3 2052 3060 or email: gcfreeight@shangri-la.com.  Free night redemptions are subject to availability at time of reservation.  Also, the following black-out dates, in addition to existing Golden Circle black-out dates, apply:

For all Hotels: 31 December 2009 and 1 January 2010
For all Resorts: 22 December 2009 to 1 January 2010 and 13 to 17 February 2010 (both dates inclusive)

Step 3) I sent the following reply

I understand all the terms you have listed below [in the e-mail] and what I want to do falls within these terms but for some reason the local hotel manager refuses to honor the terms of the promotion.  While the hotel may be running full there are rooms available on the 12th and 13th (Free night on the 12th and I’ll pay for the 13th).  Please see the attached screenshot.  Rooms are available in every category.

Item 14 in the terms and conditions states, Members can redeem the best available room at time of reservation except Premier Rooms or equivalent, Horizon/Traders Club Floors, Suites and Villas.” The best available room that isn’t a premier room or a suite is the “Garden Wing Deluxe Sea View Room”.  That is the room I should be allowed to book on the 12th… and pay for on the 13th.

Step 4) SUCCESS

Dear Mr. Busscher,

Thank you for your email of 5 November 2009

We are pleased to advise you that your redemption booking as well as your paid night booking has been made at Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort, Kota Kinabalu as requested.  Booking confirmation has been sent by the hotel directly to you separately.  Should you have any queries, you may contact the hotel via email at rrr@shangri-la.com or telephone at (60-88) 792888.

We look forward to welcoming you to Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts again, soon.

I shouldn’t have had to go through all of this but this is what the travel industry has come to.  They use promotions to draw in customers and then make it extremely difficult for all but the incredibly determined to redeem the promotions.

This should have raised a red flag that this Shangri-La Rasa Ria wasn’t up to the standard of the other hotels in the Shangri-La group.  I’ll post a review of the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort a litte later.